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Latino in America 2: In Her Corner

Aired September 25, 2011 - 20:00   ET


MARLEN ESPARZA, NATIONAL BOXING CHAMPION: When you beat somebody in the ring, you're not just beating them up or something. You're, like, beating the entire symbolism of them. You're beating who they are.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN PRESENTS HOST (voice-over): Marlen Esparza's early mornings always start with math. How much to eat. How far to run. How many pounds, sprints, crunches. How many endless hours of training will it take to win.

(On camera): Why are you here every day?

ESPARZA: Because I want to win. This is my life and this is what I do, like, and I can honestly say, like, this is who I am. Like, right here, you're with it. You see it. This is what I do.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Marlen is the five-time national boxing champion.


ESPARZA: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: She only interrupts her training to work at this Houston dental office with her mother, Carmen.

CARMEN: I've seen her come in and she's all, like, just pouring down sweat. And when she's training really hard, I'm like, Marlen, you want to eat something? She's like, no, I can't. I can't. She makes me want to cry when she does that.

O'BRIEN: The family struggles to find the money for national tournaments.

CARMEN: I've gone as far as even here at work. To say, hey, we -- you know, we don't have the money to send her. Even the girls here at work have said, you know, here's 20. Here's 60.

O'BRIEN: It all has to add up. The money. The training. Even her lunch.

Marlen is a flyweight. She has to weigh in at 112 pounds at 5'3".

ESPARZA: I'm 21, and I have, like, all these injuries. And I'm, like, always sore and always tired. I've been doing this since I was, like, 11, so I've been doing this for a really long time with intense workouts. So I just have to make sure that I train my body right. O'BRIEN: Before boxing, she was the chubby youngest sister of four. And a troublemaker.

ESPARZA: I always had the last word. And --

O'BRIEN (on camera): You were mouthy?

ESPARZA: Yes, very, very. Quick tongue. It was like people would get frustrated with me really fast. And I was like --

O'BRIEN: So you were smart but mouthy.


O'BRIEN: Bad combination.

(Voice-over): Then her parents got divorced. Her siblings began to move out. Boxing sustained her.

ESPARZA: Probably if I didn't have boxing, it would have probably messed me up, like, mentally. Because, you know, I don't care what anybody says. To have all your family just, like, go off in one shot, it's hard to deal with.

O'BRIEN: Marlen ended up living with her father, David. She dedicated her life to training.

DAVID, MARLEN'S FATHER: For the past three or four years, she's grown up and she hasn't got a chance to go out and meet the boyfriend, meet -- go with the girls and dance and have a good time. And she never has time for that.

O'BRIEN: Her coach, Rudy Silva, took a central role in her life.

(On camera): What's her greatest weakness?

RUDY SILVA, MARLEN'S COACH: Sometimes she's -- she goes after you so much that she'll stay a little high. But that's not even that -- that bad.

O'BRIEN: Sounds like he's saying you have no weaknesses.

ESPARZA: Oh, I have a lot. I hear them all the time.

O'BRIEN: So what does he say are your weakness is?

ESPARZA: Like, every day something different, I guess. Whatever's wrong that day.

I was, like, 16 or something. They presented me with the most promising Mexican or something.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): She became national champ at 16 and dreamed of the Olympics. But women couldn't box in the games, even though they compete in every other sport.

ESPARZA: This one's heavy. Every single national tournament I've entered, I've won.

O'BRIEN: She also became an academic star.

ESPARZA: I was, like, on the debate team. I was in the National Honor Society. I was president of my class. I was in all AP classes. And I had, like, a 4.6-something.

O'BRIEN: Then, some exciting news. The Olympics decide to add women's boxing for 2012.

ESPARZA: When I was, like, in elementary, like, I was really into Greek mythology and stuff like that. I always thought, like, the Olympic Games are, like, and I wanted to go. And it just ended up being boxing.

O'BRIEN: Marlen postpones college to pursue Olympic dreams.

ESPARZA: Just another day.

DAVID: Boxing for me has always been my number one sport. I was born in Mexico. My kids are Mexican-Americans. Making the Olympics team, that would be something that any parent, I don't care who it is or what race they are. They're going to feel what I'm feeling right now. And we don't know how to behave, sometimes.


O'BRIEN: There are eight spots at the Olympic trials. As the national champion, she's offered the first.

(On camera): The Olympics the goal. Big goal.

ESPARZA: Yes. It's huge. It's probably -- I honestly, truly feel like if I go to the Olympics and medal that I could probably be totally happy for the rest of my life. Yes. Like, completely happy.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Marlen is on her way. When suddenly her competitors sue, saying Marlen should have to fight them first for one of the coveted spots.

ESPARZA: It's stressful. It's something that I've been working for my whole life. And then not only did this come out of nowhere, but then there's the pressure -- not that anybody puts direct pressure on me. But I know that people expect things from me.

O'BRIEN: USA Boxing decides to schedule a box off.

ESPARZA: One thing about boxing, anything can happen. I beat all of them fairly easy. The closest bout I had was against Christina Cruz.

O'BRIEN: Christina Cruz. Just one of the champion fighters Marlen will have to face.

(On camera): What happens if you lose in Colorado?

ESPARZA: I don't even know. That would be horrible. Sorry. I'm going to cry. This is so weird. I'm sorry. I haven't lost in, like, nine years. And that would just be, like, the -- the worst thing that could ever happen to me. And I -- I don't deserve it, either. I mean, I work really hard. So I'm OK. Like I know that I've done what I'm supposed to do.


O'BRIEN (voice-over): Marlen Esparza trains in a gym that sits along a lonely stretch of Houston's I-10. Rudy Silva started the gym to mentor boys. Until Marlen walked in.

SILVA: She was in alternative school, not doing well at all behavior wise.

O'BRIEN: She brought her brothers to box. But they hated it. Marlen begged Rudy to train her.

ESPARZA: He laughed at me.

SILVA: And the first thing I told her was, well, first, I don't train female fighters. She walked away.

O'BRIEN: She kept coming back. So he tested her against the boys.

SILVA: I actually tried for about two weeks to break her, to try to make her quit. I was pushing her so far. Left hand up. Left hand up.

ESPARZA: And I kind of in my head was thinking, like, ha-ha, he thinks that I can't do it and I so can.

SILVA: In a few weeks instead of making her quit, I was making some of the guys quit.


O'BRIEN: At first, boxing was more challenging than she let on.

ESPARZA: Like, I remember getting beat up, like, every day for, like, the first three years I was boxing. And I was like, hmm, like, what's going on? And I'm trying really, really hard here. Like I'm doing everything I'm supposed to do.

O'BRIEN: But eventually she started winning.

(On camera): Did you know then you had a champion on your hands?

SILVA: Yes. I said, you know, this girl's going to make it. I know. You know she has the heart of a champion.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): To make a champion, Rudy has taken charge of Marlen's life.

(On camera): Is she allowed to have a boyfriend?

SILVA: No. O'BRIEN: Is she allowed to party on the weekends?


O'BRIEN: Is she allowed to take a few days off and just not train when she's worn out?


O'BRIEN: That's a lot of no's.


O'BRIEN: For a 21-year-old girl. She's a young woman.

SILVA: I remember when she was 18 years old. She went to prom. I was at her house with her dad waiting for her to come home from prom.


O'BRIEN: You were at her house?


O'BRIEN: With her father?

SILVA: With her father.

ESPARZA: He's been worse on me, and it's been more difficult to actually have him in my life than my dad. Yes. For sure. Because my dad's really laid back. And my life would have been actually a lot more stress-free, like, yes, life. But with Rudy it's like, why is this happening to me?

O'BRIEN (voice-over): There's a reason Rudy is so tough. He's a police officer at Jefferson Davis High School. Not far from the neighborhood where he grew up.

(On camera): You must look at this kind of poverty and think about your own childhood.

SILVA: Coming from seven brothers and sisters, including my mom and him, that's nine people in a one-bedroom apartment in a small neighborhood very similar to this.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Boxing kept Rudy out of trouble. He won the local Golden Gloves four times.

SILVA: I was, like, really focused. So there was quite a few times where that's what made the decision of me not going out to a party or going out to the movies or just going and hanging out. No, I need to be at home. If I want to win this fight.

Let's go, let's go, let's go. Come on, man, you're going to be late.

O'BRIEN: These days -- SILVA: Did you say the student didn't come up there?

O'BRIEN: -- he faces off with the kids at Jefferson Davis.

SILVA: You need to get to class. Are you late again? You got to wake up earlier than that. You told me you were going to be doing better?

O'BRIEN (on camera): Can boxing help them?

SILVA: You're talking to a boxing coach, obviously. So I'm going to say yes.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): He uses boxing to keep the students focused.

SILVA: We made "Ring" magazine this year.

O'BRIEN (on camera): Right. That's great.


O'BRIEN: Kind of the wall of fame here.

SILVA: Yes, it is.

Whenever they get more involved in the boxing, it seems like they start doing so much better in school. I know it did that even for my own little boy.

Elbows in, elbows in.

O'BRIEN: Yes, he's focused.

SILVA: Oh, and you should see his grades. His grades are -- I mean he's a straight-A student.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Marlen could be Rudy's biggest accomplishment.

ESPARZA: He's, like, 90 percent of the reason why I am where I am.

O'BRIEN (on camera): And what's the 10 percent?

ESPARZA: Ten percent is just the fact that I dealt with it. Because a lot of people don't stay with him because of how hard he is. The longest I've ever seen anybody stay with him consecutively is, like, two or -- two or three years.

O'BRIEN: Do you think that number is right? That percentage? Ninety percent you, 10 percent Marlen?

SILVA: I would say, like, 94.


O'BRIEN: Ninety-four percent --

ESPARZA: Whatever.


ESPARZA: Conceited. Conceited. Wow. Wow.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Now Rudy needs to prep her for an unexpected challenge. A fight in Colorado that will decide who gets a first shot at the Olympic trials. But there's another Latina Boxer working with her coach with the same goal in mind. Christina Cruz.

(On camera): What will winning the Olympics mean?

CHRISTINA CRUZ, BOXER: Oh, man. It would mean the world to me. Yes. I wake up --


CRUZ: Why? Just because everything that I've sacrificed for it. Even, like, my trainer, sacrifices that he made. You know, it's not only for me. It's for my team. And you know, I just wake up every day thinking about it. And it just constantly goes through my mind.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Christina is also aiming for Colorado. Gunning for Marlen Esparza's crown.

CRUZ: This is a sport. Someone has to lose.


ESPARZA: I thought I was going to be at a training camp, and now I'm having to fight.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): There's a lot at stake at the box off in Colorado Springs. Home of the U.S. Olympic team.

ESPARZA: I guess to put it bluntly I'm a little bit pissed off at the idea of what I'm having to do. I mean. I mean that covers it. I'm angry.

O'BRIEN: Just eight female flyweights will go to the Olympic trials. These boxers came ready to fight for Marlen's spot.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If I'm chosen, tears.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is why we're here. We're here because we're ready.


O'BRIEN: Many U.S. Boxers are working-class Latinos and African- Americans. Used to fighting for what they want like Tyresha Douglas.

TYRESHA DOUGLAS, BOXER: If it wasn't for boxing -- I'm trying not to get teary eyed -- I wouldn't be here. Both of my parents were on drugs. When I was 16, in ninth grade, I broke a girl's jaw. Broke her nose. (INAUDIBLE) nurse. I had to do community service for boxing.

O'BRIEN: Barito Ramirez is from Idaho.

BARITO RAMIREZ, BOXER: I know back home a lot of my friends, they're, like, Latino. You know they're already married with kids and stuff. Never went to school after high school. And, me, you know, having boxing, it's put me on a better path.

O'BRIEN: Marlen beats her first box off opponent, Alex Love.

ESPARZA: So it kind of felt like I was fighting, like, a 12-year-old kid.

O'BRIEN: But she's more worried about Christina Cruz.

ESPARZA: The girls that we have to worry about are the girls that -- like, here, that have been fighting, know the point system. Like Christina Cruz. That's why she wins.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Number one in New York. Hell's kitchen product. Number one, OK? Number one. Christina Cruz.

O'BRIEN: Christina is the Puerto Rican fighter from hell's kitchen challenging Marlen. She dominates the New York boxing scene. She gets to fight in front of Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden. Boxing has changed her life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tina, get away from the rope, Tina. Tina, watch that right. That a girl.

O'BRIEN: Her family is on her side now. Her mother cheers at her fights. But Christina's mother was in jail when Christina was growing up. Her father asked her maternal grandparents to help raise Christina. They were boxing fans.

CRUZ: My grandfather, he was -- he was very much a part of it. He never got to go to any of my fights, but he always made sure, you know, I was good. And even, like, just cooking the right food for me and always asking me about my fights.

O'BRIEN (on camera): Your grandparents died.

CRUZ: Yes. Both of them had passed about two years ago.

O'BRIEN: That was upsetting. I didn't mean to make you cry.

CRUZ: It's OK.

O'BRIEN: They made you who you are? A tough girl? Who's going to win at the Garden?

(Voice-over): The night before the fight, Christina seeks camaraderie. A fellow boxer sings "Hero" to keep their spirits high.


O'BRIEN: But Rudy keeps Marlen far away. At a hotel.

SILVA: She's probably going to go eat some really good food and then just relax and watch some film on these boxers and go over some strategy.

O'BRIEN: U.S. Olympic boxing coach Gloria Peek has come to the box off to get a look at the first female Olympic hopefuls.

GLORIA PEEK, U.S. OLYMPIC BOXING COACH: All right, baby. Good luck, baby. OK, lady. Good luck.

O'BRIEN: After 33 years of coaching men, Coach Peek has her eyes on the top two women. Esparza versus Cruz.

PEEK: I think out of the 112, these are the two top girls. Christina, her frame and her size and everything makes her perfect for international boxing. However, Marlen has learned all the tricks of the trade for boxing international. So, you know, the clash of the Titans.

O'BRIEN: These two women are bracing for a fight.

ESPARZA: Christina runs, runs, runs, one-two, runs, runs, runs, one- two. One-two, one-try runs. And it's the same thing.

O'BRIEN (on camera): How about Marlen? What kind of boxer is she?

CRUZ: She likes to come forward. She's a pressure fighter. She likes to stay on top of you.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): The day of the fight, Christina is relaxed. Getting wrapped and ready at the gym. Marlen arrives quietly.

ESPARZA: Christina Cruz boxes as a hobby. I box as a lifestyle.

CRUZ: We're in the same weight class. We both want the same thing. This is a sport. Someone has to lose.

O'BRIEN: Just as Marlen predicted, Christina runs. Amateurs box with head gear. They only score points with a clean hit to the face or chest. 4-1, Christina.


O'BRIEN: Seven-five, Christina. And the winner is --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go. Keep your hands up. That's good. Come one. That's great.


O'BRIEN (voice-over): Marlen has lost. CRUZ: First lost in nine years.


CRUZ: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anything bother you at all?

CRUZ: Nope. Feel great.

PEEK: Told you that would be a clash of the Titans. And it was.

O'BRIEN: Christina will go compete for the first Olympic trial spot at the Pan American qualifier in Venezuela.

CRUZ: Yes, I'm very excited. Going to another country to fight. Representing USA.

ESPARZA: That's weird. Like, I don't feel like I really lost. It's weird.

O'BRIEN: It is her first loss in the United States in nine years. Since she was 13 years old.

ESPARZA: I don't know. Like, I feel kind of blank. I don't really know --

O'BRIEN: If Christina wins in Venezuela, she takes the Olympic trial spot USA boxing had reserved for their national champion, Marlen.

SILVA: Not that we're waiting for this to happen, but she still has to win the qualifier. Because if she doesn't, it defaults to Marlen, that spot.


O'BRIEN: Marlen goes home to await the results with her family.

DAVID: For a few days, it was kind of, like, sad and, you know, she's not used to losing. She has the perfect record up until then. The kind of kid that gives their whole life to a sport, the next thing you know you take a loss, it's devastating for a little bit. But then Marlen is a person that she's so strong, all that is going to do to her, bring her back stronger.

O'BRIEN: She had planned to start training for the Olympic trials. Now she needs to raise money to continue competing.

SILVA: Good.

O'BRIEN: David Esparza is a supervisor at this manufacturing plant. He works seven days a week, 12 hours a day to fund Marlen's dream.

DAVID: I've been doing this job.

O'BRIEN (on camera): Paying for her boxing? DAVID: Paying for her boxing.

O'BRIEN: What's the biggest expense?

DAVID: Well, it's been since she started going to the nationals. And setting myself up to bring her by myself with a separate room and airplane tickets and rental cars and food and all that.

O'BRIEN: Expense, expense, expense.

DAVID: Expense, expense, expense. It's been costing me, like, $20,000 to $25,000 a year.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): These blue-collar parents had white-collar dreams for their four children.

(On camera): Why was that important to you?

CARMEN: Want them to be, you know, that success that I wasn't. That's how I feel.

DAVID: Which parent don't want a kid to succeed? I came from Mexico when I was 18 years old. The thing that I have learned about this country is that if you don't have no money, you're not good -- you're not going to make it in this country.

CARMEN: We're going to do it, OK?

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Carmen wanted doctors like her bosses at work.

CARMEN: I told all of them that if one of them decided that they would go for dental, you know, a dentist, that I would go get two jobs or three jobs, whatever it took to pay for their school.


O'BRIEN: Their oldest, Delilah, came close. She went to Lamar University to study nursing.

DELILAH: You want an orange, too?

DAVID: She got pregnant and she didn't finish her school. It was a devastating thing to me. I think I got old, like, three years in one day. Like in one day I got three years --

O'BRIEN (on camera): You aged three years?

DAVID: I aged three years.

DELILAH: This is like the stage area's cafeteria.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Instead of nursing Delilah had four children in four years. Today she manages school construction projects.

DELILAH: I wanted my children to have siblings like I grew up with. Marlen, Pido and Diego. Four of us. So it's like if my mom can do it with four, I can do it with four. And I did get divorced young. But, you know, I take care of my kids. I'm a single mom. And they're happy. They're happy.

O'BRIEN: David Jr. chose cooking school. Diego quit college to pursue music.

DIEGO, MARLEN'S BROTHER: My dad wanted me to be an engineer. In his family, like, from Mexico he had, like, politicians and lawyers. He looks up to that kind of stuff and he expects that we should -- we should aspire to, you know, go to what he looks up to.

ESPARZA: I look like Diego with short hair.


O'BRIEN: Marlen's parents are divorced. But they are together when it comes to their children.

(On camera): Did you think you'd have four kids who were all in college at this point or graduating from college?


DAVID: That's what I thought it was going to be.

O'BRIEN: Does it sadden you that you don't? It does?

CARMEN: Yes. Because Delilah started out that way. Diego started out that way. Marlen didn't because of the boxing.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Marlen has been offered an exhibition match against the Mexican national team. This is her first fight since the loss in Colorado. The victory restores her confidence. But she's not the only one seeking glory. Christina Cruz has also dedicated her life to getting to the Olympics. And she is putting up a fight in Venezuela.

CRUZ: I feel pretty confident. I think I have everything I need to win.

O'BRIEN: Will Christina win the first shot at team USA?


ESPARZA: I am the minority right now because I'm Mexican and a lot of people don't respect it. But as soon as I get a gold medal, people are going to be like, hey, it's OK to be Mexican in the U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, it may be a little warm out here but we've got a great, cool event.

SILVA: I think we're owning the rig.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, let's go, guys.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Today Rudy and his fighters compete in the heart of Tex-Mex, Houston.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the red corner, representing Elite Boxing.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right here. Right here, girl. Back down when you finish.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our winner out of the red corner, Elite Boxing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good job. Good job.

ESPARZA: I like saying that I'm Mexican. I'm proud of it.

O'BRIEN: The community is excited about Marlen's Olympic prospects.

ESPARZA: The Mexicans are totally going to love it. They're going to freak when it happens.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're really cool.

ESPARZA: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, ladies and gentlemen, none other than our USA Elite Marlen Esparza.

ESPARZA: Boxing's big in Hispanic culture.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Hispanic fighters, they fight with a lot of heart.

O'BRIEN: Her family is there in full force.



DAVID: Congratulations again, Rudy.

O'BRIEN: So are the little girls from the gym.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I grow up, I want to be just like her because she's very inspiring.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can take those out if you want to go ahead and start getting ready or start putting your make-up on. And there's a mirror over there for you to get ready.

ESPARZA: Everybody just tells me I don't look like a boxer.

O'BRIEN: Today Marlen is dressing up to speak at Rice University.

ESPARZA: The girls who box look less feminine than I do. But just because I box doesn't mean that I can't get dressed up or that it didn't fit me or that I can't do this just like anybody else.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: See, it looks good. I like it.

O'BRIEN: Marlen once pursued admission to Rice University. But postponed college for boxing.

ESPARZA: Find something that you really love to do and the rest of your life will follow. I really just want to leave you with the idea that, yes, it's cliche, but anything is possible.

O'BRIEN: Marlen doesn't have an Olympic trial spot yet. But the sponsors are lining up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just found out a little while ago that they made their decision for the 2012 APAC athletes. And Marlen, guess what?

ESPARZA: Shut up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, they selected you as one of them.

ESPARZA: Shut up. Are you serious?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I am serious. Can you believe it?

O'BRIEN: Coca-Cola will pay her as much as her father's salary.

DAVID: Congratulations, Marlen.

O'BRIEN: She also has Nike.

DAVID: Right now, I don't have no word.

ESPARZA: See, look. These feel good. Cool. This is when you start to feel like Rocky like --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Primer and moisturizer. Look at her eyelashes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're supposed to just look like you're hanging out training. Drinking Coke.


ESPARZA: I guess you could take it as recognition or pressure. Whichever you want to grab first. But either way, with them or without them, I would be planning on doing the same thing.

O'BRIEN: Her sponsors' investment will only pay off if she makes it to London in 2012.


O'BRIEN: She's training harder than ever.

ESPARZA: Why am I doing this like torture?

O'BRIEN: The pressure continues. Christina has won the first Olympic trial spot after her opponent is disqualified.

CRUZ: I always wanted to be in the Olympics. Me and my younger brother would watch the gymnastics, swimming, all the other sports and always think -- you know, always thought that it was cool.

O'BRIEN: To get one of the remaining spots, Marlen must return to Colorado.

Fighters who medal at the nationals also qualify for the Olympic trials.

ESPARZA: I guess I really just hope that I pull a difficult bracket. That way no one can say, like, oh, she won again but only because she had an easy bracket.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to the 2011 USA Boxing National Championships. Members of 112 pounds women. TyrieShia Douglas, Cynthia Marino, Alex Love, Marlen Esparza --

ESPARZA: My goal here definitely as this national championships is just to make a statement. I don't want to sound so harsh saying this but I basically want to crush everybody's dream right now. I don't want to make anything close. That way everybody knows deep down in the back of their head and in their heart, like, OK, there's no way. This is Marlen's. And that's it.

O'BRIEN: Marlen also wants revenge. Christina Cruz beat her out of the first Olympic trial spot. Now Christina is in Colorado gunning for Marlen's national title.

DAVID: Today is Marlen's first fight. So obviously I'm going to -- I'm nervous. Big-time nervous. Go in between, like, go with (INAUDIBLE), OK?

ESPARZA: All right.

DAVID: It's going to be easy. You'll be OK.

ESPARZA: OK. All right.

DAVID: Love you.


DAVID: There you go, Marlen. Clean shots, Marlen. Perfect. Come on, Marlen. Go, Marlen, go. Go, Marlen, go, go, Marlen.


DAVID: She did good?


DAVID: All right. She won, she won. Thank God.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your winner, out of the blue corner, Marlen Esparza, region eight.

O'BRIEN: She plows through her opponents all the way to the quarter finals.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Marlen Esparza. Blue corner --

O'BRIEN: The winner of this fight goes to the Olympic trials. If Marlen loses, it all ends here.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your winner, on the red corner, Marlen Esparza.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Marlen has won. She has the second spot at the Olympic trials. But this pressure fighter is still under pressure. From the ring next door.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your winner, in the blue corner, Christina Cruz.

O'BRIEN: Marlen will fight Christina Cruz in the semifinals. The only boxer to beat her since childhood.

(On camera): Why do you want to beat her so badly? Revenge?

ESPARZA: It's revenge. And it's a lot of, just, like heart and mentally. Just to get me back to where I was before. Because I feel like it put me back.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Olympic coach Gloria Peek sees the fight this way.

PEEK: I believe that Christina's going to have a very hard time. And part of that is because she doesn't have the right type of people that know enough about her to help her over the -- the difficult areas.

O'BRIEN: Marlen has Rudy in her corner. And her father.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Out of the red corner, Marlen Esparza, Houston, Texas. Out of the blue corner, Christina Cruz, New York, New York.

O'BRIEN: Marlen comes out swinging. Then lets Christina run.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Come on, Christina.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There you go. Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your winner, out of the red corner, Marlen Esparza, Houston, Texas.

DAVID: Easy one. Easy. Easy.

ESPARZA: Because I was like, man, I was like, if I lose to the same person in a row, when I've never lost to anybody twice in my life. CRUZ: My timing was a bit off. And towards the later rounds I was getting tired. She put more pressure on me. This time she waited a little, which I didn't expect.

O'BRIEN (on camera): How did it feel?

ESPARZA: It felt really good. I think after she beat me, a lot of people were thinking maybe I'm not the one that's going to win anymore. And I think after that one, it was kind of like, it was just an accident. It was just a mistake.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Anybody checking in to VIP?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to the 2011 USA Boxing National Championships.

ESPARZA: After I beat Christina, I was done. Like, I was like, I won. And I kept having to tell myself, Marlen, you're still fighting. Get with it. You're still fighting. You're still fighting.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Marlen, Christina and two other flyweight boxers at these national championships will meet again at the Olympic trials. Only the winner joins team USA. The field is now full of Latinas.


O'BRIEN: In the end, it all has to add up, 112 pounds, four two- minute rounds. A chance to shatter the Olympic glass ceiling.

PEEK: This is the last great domain of men. And we've broken through the last great domain.

DAVID: All right. Marlen, good.


SILVA: Go high. Go high.


DAVID: You got it. She's tired already, Marlen.

ESPARZA: I was kind of just like, get it done, get it done, get it done. And I saw her, and I saw it in her eyes, and she didn't have anything left.


DAVID: Beautiful, beautiful.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, your winner will be a 27-16 decision. And the 2011 Women's Flyweight National champion, out of the blue corner, Marlen Esparza.

O'BRIEN: Marlen has won her sixth national championship. ESPARZA: When they raised my hand, it's definitely my favorite part.

SILVA: I know this started, like, 10 or 11 years ago. But I still feel like when she won her very first time. It still feels so awesome, you know, it really does.



ESPARZA: This is crazy.

O'BRIEN (on camera): What does your life look like? Married? Kids?

ESPARZA: Fat? I mean like --

O'BRIEN: You just want to eat a sundae like as soon as the Olympics is done. You're going to (INAUDIBLE) a sundae.

ESPARZA: I know that I'm going to go to school. I want to go to med school.

I forgot I knew this many people.

DAVID: Don't let Rudy see that. You're not supposed to be eating chocolate before training.

ESPARZA: I'm going to eat a lot.

O'BRIEN: So what do you think her future looks like in 10 years? What's she doing?


O'BRIEN: Why can't you answer that? You probably know her better than anybody.

SILVA: I think she's going to get something big out of this. I think she's going to turn pro, she's going to be a world champion.

O'BRIEN: Rudy thinks that after the Olympics --

ESPARZA: Rudy's crazy.


O'BRIEN (voice-over): What does matter is who she has in her corner.

(On camera): What's boxing given you?

ESPARZA: Boxing has given me a lot of self-esteem. A lot of self- worth. When you're in the ring with people, you just figure out who they are. And the only way that you're going to beat somebody is if they gave up on themselves. Some girls are better than me. They just don't know it. So I win.